Bookkeeping – Payroll Structure (Lesson 30)

Every bookkeeper needs to understand how to process a payroll. This is one of the many regular tasks in the bookkeeping cycle.  In this lesson I’m going to illustrate a payroll structure as it pertains to the chart of accounts.  But prior to illustrating a payroll structure a bookkeeper needs to understand the underlying math involved. The math substantiates the payroll structure and the corresponding chart of accounts. Please read Introduction to Payroll located in the Employer Taxation section of the Taxes and Compliance tab on this site.

Payroll introduction covers the basic math of a payroll, how taxes are calculated and how to reconcile an employee’s check. You  must first understand these basic relationships before continuing with this lesson.

Summary of a Payroll

In a typical paycheck the employee has the following taxes withheld to create a net payment from his gross wages:

  • Federal Income Taxes
  • Social Security Taxes (6.2% of Gross Wages)
  • Medicare Taxes (1.45% of Gross Wages)
  • State Income Taxes (Seven states do not have income taxes)

The employer also has responsibilities. The employer must pay the following taxes for payroll:

  • Matching Social Security (6.2% of Gross Wages)
  • Matching Medicare Tax (1.45% of Gross Wages)
  • FUTA (.6% of First $7,000 of Gross Wages)
  • State Unemployment Tax (Each state uses a different formula)

The rule of thumb is that for every $1,000 of gross wages paid to employees, the employer will pay about $1,100 combined for wages and payroll taxes.

Organization of Payroll

In a payroll run (an actual payroll processing) the small business pays the production workers, office staff and management team. Within the management team is traditionally the officer(s)/owner(s) of the company. There are several compliance requirements necessitating modifications to the chart of accounts to make reporting easier. Below are the two general requirements.

Tax Compliance

At year end the tax preparer reports to the Internal Revenue Service four distinct pieces of information related to payroll:

  1. Cost of Sales – Production labor is reported on Schedule 1125, labor line. From a business perspective the primary information is essentially all field labor and production management. Sometimes this production management includes the officer/owner.  So as a note to the tax preparer, the bookkeeper may indicate that a certain percentage of the owner’s salary is a function of cost of sales.
  2. Officer’s Compensation – In the expenses section of the tax return is a separate line for officer’s compensation. The IRS expects a list of all officers and their corresponding compensation. This should match up against an officer’s W-2 report. The only exclusion to the dollar amount reported is the portion of the officer’s salary assigned to cost of sales for production work.
  3. Office Wages and Salaries – Immediately after the officer’s compensation line in the expenses section of the tax return is an information line for office wages paid. This refers to the office staff. Customarily this includes professional staff (non-officers), office manager, receptionist and clerks. The total here should match the total aggregate gross wages as reported for the same personnel on their W-2’s.
  4. Tax & Licenses – Tax compliance includes the total amount of employer taxes paid for payroll. This consists primarily of two tax groups. The first is matching taxes for Social Security and Medicare. The second group is the unemployment taxes (FUTA and SUTA) paid.

The IRS desires this information reported as a function of taxes and licenses in the expenses section of the tax return. The problem with this is that this reporting presentation doesn’t work well for financial reporting purposes.

Financial Reporting of Payroll

Financial reporting is different from tax reporting.   With financial reporting the goal is to sort data to accurately determine profits at various points of business operations. This includes gross profit, contribution margin, operational profit, profit and net profit.  To achieve these various points of information along the income statement layout payroll data must be posted in the proper ledger accounts.

Cost of Sales – Labor includes production labor, field labor and retail sales personnel. In addition production management and the corresponding taxes associated with this labor group is reported here.

Management Expenses – Within expenses are the front and back office payroll. Just like labor in cost of sales, management costs should include this group’s cost of employer payroll taxes.

How does a bookkeeper successfully achieve both tax compliance and financial reporting for payroll information?

Chart of Accounts Layout

The secret to successfully implementing both tax compliance and financial reporting is a properly designed chart of accounts. Use parent-child accounts to fully comply with tax requirements and financial decision models.

The following is a limited version of the cost of sales section with an expanded labor line (the parent account).

Cost of Sales
  Labor (Parent account)
     – Production Labor (Child Account)
     – Production Management (Child Account)
     – Production P/R Taxes (Child Account)
     – Production Labor Benefits (Child Account)

In condensed mode the financial report only identifies the value for all the child accounts of labor. In expanded mode labor is divided into the respective accounts for both tax compliance and financial decision making.

Key Business Principle




For the expenses section, management costs are the primary group for payroll as illustrated below:

   Taxes and Licenses
   Office Operations

Each of the primary groups of accounts are a parent account for sub accounts. Management is structured as following:

   Management (Parent Account)
       – Officers Compensation (Child Account)
       – Back Office Management (Child Account)
          includes HR Director, Finance Director, Engineering, Sales and Other Professional Staff
       – Front Office (Child Account)
          includes office manager, receptionist and clerks
       – Payroll Taxes (Child Account) cumulative total for all three management payroll accounts
       – Benefits (Child Account)
   Taxes and Licenses
   Office Operations

This chart of accounts structure works perfectly for financial reporting purposes, but how does it comply with tax reporting requirements?

Conversion of Financial Payroll Information to Tax Compliance

The fundamental reporting requirement of tax compliance is already built into the account structure. Notice in cost of sales, management costs are separated. Within this detail account will reside the value of any officer’s payroll used in production. This is very common in really small businesses where the owner is active in all aspects of operations.

Over in expenses, management splits out officer’s compensation from general management (professional staff) and staff compensation. The only difference for tax purposes is employer taxes. This is actually a simple task of combining both tax child accounts – one from cost of sales and the other from management expenses.

Successful completion of this task requires a schedule. Create a tab in an Excel spreadsheet, label the tab ‘Payroll Fin-Tax’ which means payroll financial to tax reporting. In this schedule, create a list of all employees and identify the respective function in the business. In another column is the gross wages paid, employer taxes and a column identifying if the employee is an officer. See the illustration below:

Payroll:  Financial Reporting to Tax Compliance
Employee        Function     Gross             Payroll Taxes
Name                Code        Wages      Matching    FUTA/SUTA   Officer
 Employee ‘A’      P       $ZZ,ZZZ      $Z,ZZZ          $ZZZ               No
   ‘B’                     P           Z,ZZZ            ZZZ              ZZ                No
   ‘C’                     F         ZZ,ZZZ        Z,ZZZ            ZZZ                No
   ‘D’                    B         ZZ,ZZZ        Z,ZZZ            ZZZ                Yes
   ‘E’                     P         ZZ,ZZZ        Z,ZZZ            ZZZ                No
Totals                         $ZZZ,ZZZ    $ZZ,ZZZ      $Z,ZZZ

P = Production
F = Front Office
B = Back Office

The next section in this spreadsheet keys to the respective financial lines; basically sorting the data:

Production – Cost of Sales/Labor/Production

‘A’                           $ZZ,ZZZ
‘B’                               Z,ZZZ
‘E’                             ZZ,ZZZ
                               $ZZ,ZZZ (Matches the Financial Report)

Production Management – Cost of Sales/Labor/Production Management

‘D’                            ZZ,ZZZ

Insert a note: ‘D’ serves two roles in business, the primary role is an officer/manager; a secondary responsibility is in production. It is estimated ‘D’ spends 25% of time in production; therefore, 25% of payroll compensation is allocated to labor in cost of sales.

Officer’s Salary:
‘D’s Gross Wages as reported on W-2                      $ZZ,ZZZ
‘D’s Gross Wages allocated to Cost of Sales             (ZZ,ZZZ)
‘D’s Gross Wages assigned to Officer’s Salary         $ZZ,ZZZ

Salaries and wages for tax purposes:
‘C’ Gross Wages                                                        $ZZ,ZZZ

Section 1
Tax Breakout:

  Employer Taxes from Cost of Sales                                             $Z,ZZZ
  Employer Taxes from Expenses                                                     Z,ZZZ
  Total Employer Paid Taxes Per Form (1120, 1120S, 1065)       $ZZ,ZZZ

Section 2
Tax Summation of Employer Taxes:

   Social Security Match                                                 $Z,ZZZ
   Medicare Match                                                            Z,ZZZ
   FUTA                                                                               ZZZ
   SUTA                                                                            Z,ZZZ
   Total Employer Taxes (must match Section 1)        $ZZ,ZZZ

Section 3
  Employer Match Social Security from Form W-3          $Z,ZZZ

  Employer Match Medicare from Form W-3                     Z,ZZZ
  FUTA from Form 940                                                          ZZZ
  SUTA from all 4 Quarter Reports                                     Z,ZZZ
  Total All Employer Taxes                                             $ZZ,ZZZ

Section 3 must match Sections 1 and 2 for totals.

Summary – Payroll Structure

The key to successful payroll processing and reporting is developing a structure that serves both financial and tax purposes. The best tool is using parent-child accounts in the cost of sales section and with the management group of expenses. To reconcile between the two reporting formats create a schedule for internal use. Act on Knowledge.

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